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Queen Mary alumna named as one of the country's top 100 change makers

The East End Trades Guild (EETG), co-founded by Queen Mary University of London alumna Krissie Nicolson, has been named as one of the country's top 100 ‘Changemakers’ by The Big Issue.

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The Changemakers Top 100 list focuses on fascinating and inspirational people who are changing the world for the better, though they’re frequently under the radar. The Big Issue’s criteria is simple: “this is about investment in a better future for all.”

The EETG has united medium, small and micro-businesses from different sectors with owners from vastly different backgrounds to fight causes such as inflated rent, rates and rogue landlords.

Co-founder Krissie Nicolson said: “I feel humbled and honoured that the organisation I serve is named among so many other amazing organisations and people.

“I think that this recognition is a fantastic boost to all the active members who lead our organisation and work so hard against all odds to keep our neighbourhoods inclusive and to protect and grow community wealth.”

Speaking in unity

The Guild, launched in November 2012, is a co-operative of 300 small independent businesses and self-employed people in London. By speaking in unity they are able to amplify the voices of small traders, promoting their importance to both the economy and character of local neighbourhoods.

Ms Nicolson started the project while undertaking her master's degree in Community Organising at Queen Mary in 2011. After approaching Paul Gardner, from the oldest family business in Spitalfields, Krissie was introduced to many other local businesses and together they uncovered a community of shared interests.

She said: “All of the businesses were battling insurmountable problems relating to a property sector that is a hangover from a feudal system, with rates tied to rental value making it very tough just to break even. So with the mandate from the members we decided to create a new organisation that could bring small neighbourhood businesses to act together with stronger collective power.”  

Sarah Marks, an East End business owner and PhD student at Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management said: “As an academic, my own participation in these campaigns has opened a new perspective in my main research focus on female entrepreneurs in east London, illuminating the historical roots of the area’s economic diversity and how this diversity can provide a resource for collectively addressing the challenges faced by small businesses today.”

Guardians of the Arches

The EETG supported the Guardians of the Arches campaign in 2018, which sought to create public awareness of the sell-off of the UK’s railway arches and the subsequent unfair rent increases. Network Rail has now sold 5,500 railway arches across the country, as a single investment portfolio to Blackstone and Telereal Trillium. These are now mostly let to small businesses.

The campaign advocated a solution that recognised these arches as places of community, business development and resourcefulness. The new campaign focused on delivering thousands of letters of support to transport Secretary Chris Grayling and mobilising members to attend a Westminster meeting in June.

Ms Nicolson said: “We are now supporting Guardians of the Arches with the New Economics Foundation to build their new institution and they have agreed to work with us in partnership on our Affordable Workspace Manifesto.”

EETG is collaborating with Queen Mary’s School of Geography and the New Economic Foundation (NEF) to offer a PhD programme.

This research programme will advance theoretical understandings of socio-economic value and, specifically, inform emerging policy debates on affordable workspaces in the context of the transfer of rents from the public to the private sphere.

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